U.S. mortgage applications, including applications to refinance existing mortgages, continued to decline last week even as mortgage rates stayed low, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America said.

The MBA's overall applications index dropped 14.3 percent to 437.2 in the week ended Feb. 13 from 510.4 the previous week, while the refinancing index fell 16.9 percent to 1686.4 from 2028.7. The purchase index - which gauges demand for new houses - fell 10.8 percent to 222.5 from 249.4.The MBA's indexes measure how many applications U.S. mortgage bankers receive each week, adjusted for seasonal changes and holidays.

Last week's decline in the overall index marked the third consecutive weekly drop, though the index remained above last year's high of 348.3 reached during the last week of October, according to Bloomberg analytics. Last week marked the fourth straight decline in the refinancing index from the record of 3115.8 set the week ended Jan. 16.

Overall, the report "continues to point to a very strong housing market," said Kim Rupert, senior economist at Standard & Poor's MMS in Belmont, Calif. And "as mortgage rates come back down again, it's going to prompt people" to apply for a mortgage or refinance their existing mortgage, Rupert said.

The MBA report showed the average contract rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell 12 basis points to 6.93 percent in the week ending Feb. 13 from the previous week's 7.05 percent. The rate on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages pegged to the one-year constant maturity Treasury index rose 1 basis point to 5.91 percent. The drop in mortgage applications runs counter to a separate housing market index from the National Association of Home Builders, which showed builders' expectations for growth in the real estate industry reached the highest point in more than four years this month.

The trade group's housing market index rose to 68 this month from the previous month's 59. That's the highest level since December 1993, when the index peaked at 70. A reading above 50 suggests that more survey participants are seeing "good" economic conditions than "poor" ones for home sales.

What's more, the three components of the home builders' index - sales expected during the next six months, traffic of prospective homebuyers, and present sales of single-family homes - all rose from last month, the trade group said.

When not adjusted for seasonal variations, the overall MBA applications index fell 12.4 percent to 453.2 last week from 517.4. The unadjusted refinancing index fell 16.9 percent to 1686.4 from 2028.7, and the unadjusted purchase index fell 6.4 percent to 241.2 from 257.6.

The MBA has surveyed mortgage lenders about applications for the past five years. The base period, with an index value of 100, was set in the week ended March 16, 1990.